There are 15,000 kids in long-term out-of-home care – how can we fix it?
Across Australia almost 50,000 children are living in out-of-home care – in foster care, or with relatives – and 15,000 of those children have been away from their birth families for more than two years.
They are unlikely to return home, and yet adoption rates are shockingly low.
Advocates say Australia’s adoption system needs fixing.
“For those children in out of home care for long periods are spending time in six or more places – there’s a real lack of stability that has a big effect on a child. Where it is appropriate, there has to be a way for adoption to be considered for them,” Jane Hunt, head of Adopt Change says.
“What we want is a system that responds to the children’s needs – there are currently 15,000 children in care for over two years, if you contrast that with domestic adoptions last year, there were just 203. So clearly that path is blocked.”
The tragic case this week of 12-year-old foster child Tiahleigh Palmer, found dead after going missing on her way to school, has highlighted the lengths of time children can spend in foster care.
“Reunification or restoration with birth families is really important but you need, there needs to be, a time where you stop that because the children are being harmed by being in temporary care,” Ms Hunt said.
“Of course, each child in each family is different and you need a system that is responsive to those differences.”
Research conducted for Adopt Change found that among Australians who had considered adoption, the length of time the process took and the complexity of the system were significant barriers.
While 17 per cent of people surveyed said they had considered adoption, 87 per cent of those people had abandoned the process.
One respondent described it as a catch-22:
“If you’re a couple and maybe decide at 33 you’re going to start trying to have kids, you try for a couple of years, then maybe IVF; by that time you’re 36/37. Then [you] say ‘we’d really still like to have kids, we’ve tried a lot of avenues now let’s try adoption’.
“If you get stuck in the bureaucracy for five years, then you’re out of the loop and now too old to be a parent because you’re viewed as an inappropriate candidate.”
Kelly Gray, 35, and her husband Tim, 39, began the adoption process three years before a six-month-old girl who had been in foster care since birth was placed with them. A year later they finalised the adoption.